Countywide school board members approved Tuesday, June 11, the use of $12 million from the reserves of the two combined school systems to bridge a funding gap in the budget for the first fiscal year of the consolidated school system.
The fiscal year begins July 1 and Tuesday’s special meeting was called as leaders of the school district prepare for that fiscal year and the Aug. 5 start of classes.
The $12 million from the unassigned reserve fund totaling $44.1 million bridges a gap between expenses and revenues for the merged school district.
The Shelby County Commission has approved $20 million in new funding for the school district and approved on the first of three readings an ordinance that would increase the county property tax rate six cents to provide about half of the increased schools funding. The rest comes from revised county revenues estimates that produce the rest of the schools funding.
The funding gap increased by about $2 million with a new lower estimate of state funding that took about $1 million in anticipated funding from the consolidated school system and another $1 million in upfront money the school system must provide charter schools under new state regulations.
Interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson recommended the use of the fund balance saying the school system could operate with its use.
The board also approved a change to the school system's contract with Durham School Services to provide bus transportation for part of the merged school system.
Durham will retain 145 bus monitors that it had used when it had the Memphis City Schools transportation contract adding $2.8 milion to the contract for a new total contract of $12.8 million.
The school system saves however from not having to pay benefits to the employees who otherwise would have worked for the school system. The school system will employ another 40 bus monitors as part of a hybrid transportation system in which it will retain a bus fleet to transport some students.
Hopson and his staff recommended the hybrid as a way to save money on the contract and preserve a bus fleet from the old Shelby County Schools system that the school system plans to use to potentially offer bussing services to suburban school districts that might be formed as well as charter schools.
Meanwhile, the board approved all but one in a set of 35 policy recommendations for the new school district.
The policies approved include a cell phone policy that is a close match to Shelby County Schools policy, permitting students to bring cell phones to school but adding that they must be turned off and stored in lockers and other designated areas where they can’t be used. Memphis City Schools policy had been to forbid students from even bringing the phones on campus.
Meanwhile, the board put off a decision on specifically banning corporal punishment in the consolidated school system.
The board will instead consider the policy recommended by the administration at its work session next week. The work session will include a review of research on the effects of corporal punishment on students as well as how effective other alternative disciplinary measures are.
The new policy would be what has been policy in Memphis City Schools. Shelby County Schools policy did not specifically ban corporal punishment but Hopson said it hasn’t been used in many years.